Building a Visibility Platform

By Jin Mitsugi, Keita Miyazaki and Yuki Sato

EPCIS adaptors facilitate the exchange of information.

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In Japan, we produce some delicious and very expensive melons that are frequently given as gifts. Customers are concerned about their quality and whether they were grown and shipped under safe conditions. And farmers are very keen to receive feedback from buyers and improve customer relations. RFID can monitor how melons and other crops are produced and transported, as well as facilitate communication between customers and farmers.

The Auto-ID Lab Japan, working with GS1 Japan, IBM Japan and Daiwa Computer, combined an RFID EPC traceability system with an e-commerce system to monitor melon crops from field to store. We attached an RFID label and a Quick Response (QR) bar code to each melon, and encoded a serialized Global Trade Item Number (SGTIN) to both. We installed radiation sensors (Geiger counters) at the farm to monitor the environment (the numbers were below the natural safety limits). We also assigned SGTINs to the sensors. The data was collected via a ZigBee wireless network and stored in a database. An application periodically retrieved the data and reported it to an Electronic Product Code Information Services (EPCIS) repository, which provides a way for businesses to capture and share EPC data automatically.

When the melons were harvested, they were boxed according to the purchase orders in the e-commerce system, which also issued shipping orders. An RFID tag encoded with an SGTIN was attached to each box, and the data was also reported to the EPCIS repository. We then tracked the boxes from the farm through the supply chain, using the EPCIS standard.

The e-commerce system, which included a payment feature, tracked the delivery of melons and linked to a Facebook page. Customers could scan the QR code attached to each melon with their smartphones to connect to Facebook and get information about the farm and suggestions about the best day to eat the melon. They could also write comments about the particular melon, which provided valuable information to the farmers.

But facilitating these applications was complicated because of all the different identifiers—EPCs, non-EPC unique IDs for purchase orders in the e-commerce system, and proprietary IDs used by the logistics company. It involved a series of queries, which is an impediment to the adoption of EPCIS as the visibility platform.

We developed and added a group of functions called EPCIS adaptors that enabled us to establish an information platform designed to exchange EPC and non-EPC data. This allows the EPC network architecture to accommodate various applications, without putting too much burden on developers. We believe sharing these EPCIS adaptors will help promote the adoption of RFID and EPC technology.

Jin Mitsugi is an associate director of the Auto-ID Lab Japan at Keio University and an associate professor in the faculty of environment and information studies. Keita Miyazaki and Yuki Sato are graduate students who also work at the Auto-ID Lab Japan.